I’ll never forget Jaylen Brown’s miraculous hamstring regeneration last season. In Game 7, up 12 on the Bucks, he drove and stopped short of the paint as he grabbed the back of his leg. He played only 16 minutes in the game, missed the opening tilt with the 76ers, then returned to shoot 53.5 percent from the field over the final four games.
That moment seems insignificant now. Though Brown easily could have missed that entire Philly series and tilted its outcome. Now, a more chronic, slow-building condition could undermine his success in the short and long-term.
Brown developed back spasms during Monday’s shoot-around, according to the Boston Globe. Cramping limited him, then it locked up, rendering him completely out of action against the Heat on Monday and Wednesday.
“I’ve never experienced it [like this] where it’s hard to bend down, it’s hard to stand up or put your socks on,” he told the Globe. “I’ve had it where I landed on my back and had injuries where I fell. That was like a bruise, but this is more muscular I think than anything.”
This injury appears to be a progression from similar sensations that Brown felt at the beginning of the year, and even before that. He suffered two scary falls on his back in 2018 against the Timberwolves and Mavericks. In November, he said he’s been through worse injuries, and that “I have low-back tightness in general, but never to this kind of level.”
That last quote was what hit me.
Brown missed three games after his fall in Dallas. His attempts to jump back into full activity only increased the tightness that he felt. Brad Stevens moved Brown to the bench in his return, pairing him with Gordon Hayward and sparking his 13.7 point-per-game run since then, compared to 11.1 PPG before.
Brown dealt with a hip flexor injury during his rookie year, the fall in Minnesota last season, the hamstring scare in the postseason and this most recent back injury. It’s a fairly healthy track record, missing only 19 games combined the past two years. This seemingly unprompted back flare-up elicits concern in spite of that, with reporters describing him wincing moving around the locker room.
Treatments failed in this most recent case, including physical therapy and muscle relaxers. His inability to rotate his torso sidelined him, unable to simply push through as he did with his hamstring.
While Brown predicted he could play on Friday against the Pacers, “I heal pretty fast,” the injury occurring out of nowhere and Brown’s admitted history with the injury concern me. I won’t pretend to play doctor here, all I can do is read patterns.
WebMD’s back spasm causes attribute it to protecting injured muscles in the back, or they could stem from disk-related injuries. Either way, Brown’s ailments could point toward something pressuring his back.
We witnessed Brown’s rapid healing in the postseason. He’ll certainly be ready to go by the time the playoffs begin. The concern here could be long-term, or even a case of timing. If these hit sporadically, could they emerge for a spot playoff game? How will they carry through his aging?
Brown may not be repaving his mother’s driveway, but it’s hard not to think about how Larry Bird’s back limited his career.
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